Evan Parker was surprised when he was not selected to the Sanderson High National Honor Society in 2011.
He was an exemplary student with a 4.5 grade point average, was involved in community activities as a basketball coach with the YMCA program and had been a team captain on athletic teams.
“I didn’t understand what was missing,” he said.
He was not accepted, he later learned, because he was not a proven leader. His captaincy of various teams was viewed more as sports participation than leadership.
“I felt that was inaccurate,” he said. “High school athletics are all about developing character, including leadership. I thought we athletes needed a platform.”
The platform developed by Parker is the Student-Athlete Leadership Initiative (SALI). The high school program has been adopted at Apex, Broughton, Enloe, Garner, Green Hope, Holly Springs, Wake Forest-Rolesville and Leesville Road, his new school.
Parker, a quarterback, transferred from Sanderson to Leesville where he joined a football program that was 12-1 in 2011 and is ranked among the best teams in the state this season. He leads the 5-0 Pride in rushing (423 yards) and in passing (465). Sanderson was 0-11 in 2011 and is 1-5 this season.
“It has been a great change for me,” said Parker, who said playing on the Leesville football team was not his primary reason for changing schools. “We have a really great environment here. Coach (Chad) Smothers stresses that we are a player-led team.”
Parker’s Student-Athlete Leadership Initiative is designed to be student-led as well.
The objectives for the group are to be a voice for high school student athletes and to form a representative central council that will execute programs designed as leadership-building and character-building activities. The group plans to hold a conference for Wake County athletes to address leadership.
Wayne Bragg, the Green Hope athletic director, said he sees SALI as a way to help develop leaders.
“We want to have leaders, but sometimes we don’t really teach the kids how to be good leaders,” Bragg said. “Leaders have to do the right things in the halls, treat people the right way. I see this program helping to teach leadership.
“The other thing that is really appealing to me is that it brings the kids together to work. The kids in the area know each other, and one of the skills that they will need later in life is coming together from different groups and working together.”
Getting the program started has been more difficult and more rewarding than Parker had envisioned.
SALI has been endorsed by the Wake Education Partnership and YMCA of the Triangle. The two groups will help SALI continue after Parker graduates in the spring.
Steve Young, a program director for the YMCA of the Triangle, said he learned there is a need to teach leadership while he was an assistant coach at Cary High and Apex High. He has seen captains who didn’t know how to lead.
“The program caught my eye because teens are my passion and I am all about athletics,” Young said. “One key was that the program isn’t about Evan. It is a sustainable program.”
Getting the SALI program started has changed Parker in unexpected ways, he said.
“I have grown a lot,” he said. “I really understand a lot more about how business works.”
Parker talked to business leaders early in the process to learn what they perceived as leadership needs.
“They are very busy people,” he said. “If you go in and you aren’t prepared, you’re telling them that you don’t care enough to have all of your stuff in order. I learned a lot about organization. You don’t want to go into a meeting unless you’re ready.”
Parker also learned about team building. Adding the YMCA and the Wake Education Partnership were key because some of the Wake County athletic directors liked the idea of the group, but said they didn’t have time to start a new project and feared the program would fold after one year without Parker.
“We are designed to be student-led, so we’re not asking the athletic directors to run things,” Parker said. “This is about teaching leadership and taking a leadership role.”